Posted on Tuesday 19 January 2010 by Ulster Business

Joanne Stuart

Joanne Stuart - Institute of Directors and Attrus

Leaders in Business - As chairperson of the Institute of Directors, Joanne Stuart has been lobbying hard for Northern Ireland businesses and stands out as a true leader in the area. She gives UIster Business a rundown of her own background as well as the challenges she sees for the local economy in the coming year.

Joanne Stuart is now best known for her role as the current chairman of the business leaders’ organisation the Institute of Directors in Northern Ireland. But she is a successful businesswoman in her own right with a career spanning almost 20 years in the IT industry. She began in a firm of accountants but quickly realised she wanted a career in industry and before long was group accountant for Prentice Ltd in Portadown. “It was there that I found myself responsible for implementing a financial and stock management computer system and through that I discovered my love of IT!” she says. Joanne moved to England and into IT with Siemens Nixdorf and then McKeown Software before joining Oracle Corporation, the world’s second largest software company. She stayed with them for nine years in senior management roles culminating in her move back to Northern Ireland to open the Oracle office in Belfast. Her current business is one she started herself, Attrus Ltd, an IT and business consultancy. “In 2006 I was one of six women in Northern Ireland nominated by Invest NI to attend the Women’s International Leadership Mission to Boston where I met Kathleen Hagen of Invest NI. She is one of the most inspirational people I have encountered, and it was through my discussions with her that I made the decision to leave Oracle and set up on my own. “It’s been one of the best decisions I have made and I now have my own business that provides a range of services into the IT industry.” Another business figure to whom Joanne owes her inspiration is Larry Ellison who founded Oracle in a garage in the 1970s and has built it to the global corporation it is today, and who, she says, is charismatic and continually pushing the boundaries of where technology can take us. One of Joanne’s motivations for going out on her own was to create time to make a contribution to the wider Northern Ireland. She’s passionate about a number of subjects such as education, innovation, sustainability and the need for a more vibrant private sector. Those enthusiasms have driven her voluntary activity. She chaired IoD’s Education and Skills committee before taking on the chairmanship of the Northern Ireland Division for a three-year period in May 2008. She has other voluntary roles, too, including non-executive director of Sentinus, a not-for-profit provider of STEM education activity within schools. She is also a trustee of the Integrated Education Fund and a non executive director of TIDES, a social enterprise organisation working in the areas of conflict resolution and diversity. Recently she became involved in a project with Mediation Northern Ireland working on sustainable peace building. “In business terms 2009 was a packed year. I was mainly working with Fujitsu Services on the implementation of the HR Connect project” she says. “I‘ve also worked on the Review of Variable Fees and Student Finance Arrangements affecting university students. Sir Reg Empey appointed me as Independent Chairperson for the review in December 2007 and I have just completed my interim report and will be delivering my final report in the first quarter of 2010.” Chairing IoD requires both energy and commitment; and the past year has seen IoD’s priorities shaped by a deep world recession and the effects of the credit crunch, adding to a workload which is time-consuming in normal times. Joanne says: “If I had to pinpoint two key challenges that businesses are facing and which were my top two lobbying issues then it would be the problems of accessing credit and the barriers placed in the way of economic development by the Planning Service. Away from work, Joanne says there’s nothing more relaxing than spending a cold, wet Friday evening at Ravenhill ‘standing up for the Ulster Men’, although sometimes it can be more frustrating than relaxing!. She is also doing a ‘virtual walk’ around Ireland for IoD charity of the year, the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Ireland, which entails walking about six miles a day with a view to completing the total distance in six months. Looking towards 2010, she says it will be a busy year with the conclusion of her review into Student Fees and the continuing lobbying on behalf of IoD members especially in light of public expenditure cuts.

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